The Satiety of Satti (and more): A Taste of Tausug Delicacies in Zamboanga

The welcoming Zamboangeno vibe at the Zamboanga International Airport.
The welcoming Zamboangeno vibe at the Zamboanga International Airport.

Bienvenido a ciudad de Zamboanga!

I arrived in the city of Zamboanga as a side trip from my deployment in Jolo, Sulu. I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to travel. In my first few months as a media relations officer in a government agency, I was able to reach the “Asia’s Latin City” in the Philippines – Zamboanga City. It is one of the cities that I have longed to visit, especially that some relatives of my father was in Zamboanga Peninsula, particularly Dipolog.

Our deployment really was in Jolo, Sulu. But because we failed to hitch transport that will bring us directly to the venue from Davao City, we flew to Zamboanga then took an 8-hour sea trip aboard a commercial ferry to Sulu. That was real quick because our schedule demands us to be at the venue ahead. But I and my co-officer promised to be back.

And so we did.

After the day’s work in a not-so-safe area, we hurriedly booked a commercial ferry ticket. Aside from the fear in staying longer in Jolo, it was the chance to go around Zamboanga that made me excited.

Our flight back to Davao is in the afternoon so we did not waste time as soon as we arrived in the city. Good thing we have the PIA in Zamboanga who served as our tour guides.  We went around the city and fed our eyes with the romantic view of breaking dawn at the port for a while and they introduced iconic spots in the city – the Fort Pilar, the markets, and the preserved Hispanic or European architecture of the City Hall among others They tell stories that made me realize how much I neglected listening to my history teachers. Some fast food establishments also willingly adapted its architectural designs, keeping the Spanish feel somehow consistent during the tour. That tour was also quick as we responded more to the growl of our tummies than to the hunger of our sense of sight.

And one way to make the most of your travel is to eat something original. So we ditched the fast food and turned to some of the famous Muslim delicacies. Zamboanga City can be considered a food haven as it offers its own iconic gut-fillers.

As soon as the morning breaks in Zamboanga, we headed to Jimmy’s Satti House in Pilar St., Zamboanga, Zamboanga Sibugay. Looked nothing modern in this seemingly carenderia but it is the home of the residents’ long-time favorite satti.

Jimmy's Satti Haus
Jimmy’s Satti Haus. Standing the test of time.

Satti, according to our friends from the PIA, is an ideal breakfast for Tausugs. It is beef, chicken meat or liver barbecue “swimming” in the pool of spicy, orange, viscous sauce with cubed rice. To someone who only thinks that sauce was just meant to be dipped on, the liberality of sauce in a plate was overwhelming. Now I understand why it is a favorite. But my co-worker find it too saucy, something she is not into. Oh well, you can’t please everybody.

Satti
The specialty, Satti.

For our lunch, we went to the rustic and cozy Dennis Coffee Garden seated in San Jose Road, Baliwasan, Zamboanga. It is a restaurant distinct in their focus on Tausug cuisine. Aside from that, they are promoting the Kahawa Sug, the authentic Sulu coffee.

Since there are a lot of us, we decided to order the resto’s food platter. If I am not mistaken, it is called Latal. The platter comprised of the mother of the Tausug dishes, the Tiula Itum.

Latal
Overloaded!

Tiula Itum is a spicy beef soup cooked with turmeric and blackened by burnt coconut flesh. In his article, the Sulu-born and Halal and Peace advocate in Zamboanga Peninsula Rezai Mijar described Tiula Itum as the “head of all viand”. “Without it at the center of a food tray, to some, it is incomplete,” he said in his blog, All Tausug. “Tiyula’ itum is a food that symbolizes the Tausug pride most likely the ethnic Buranun,” Mijar added. It is probably the reason why it is placed at the center of the platter. That’s cool!

Tiyulah Itum at Sitti's Halal Foods www.pinasmuna.com
Tiyulah Itum at Sitti’s Halal Foods http://www.pinasmuna.com

Another delicacy beside it is the Pastil. It is a pastry that looked like empanada except that it has bean sprouts or rice noodles as its fillings. The thing about this that intrigued me is its condiment. They said it is “suka” or vinegar. It looked like one, yes. But it doesn’t taste as sour as vinegar. So you can be generous in putting it on your pastil. In fact, the more you drench the food with its warm ‘vinegar’, it becomes tastier, more exciting to eat.

Pastil
Pastil

Next up is the Kulma or the beef curry in a skewer and the Tyula Sug or the beef soup cooked almost similarly to Tiula Itum.

Beef Kulma. Food styling and photography by Aliyya Sawadjaan c. Rappler.com
Beef Kulma. Food styling and photography by Aliyya Sawadjaan c. Rappler.com
Tyula Sug. Food styling and photography by Aliyya Sawadjaan c. Rappler.com
Tyula Sug. Food styling and photography by Aliyya Sawadjaan c. Rappler.com

Lastly for the viand is the Chicken Piyanggang. It is a spicy chicken dish with burnt coconut meat and coconut milk.

Chicken Piyanggang Food styling and photography by Aliyya Sawadjaan c. Rappler.com
Chicken Piyanggang. Food styling and photography by Aliyya Sawadjaan c. Rappler.com

One distinct characteristic of the Tausug cuisine is the spicy taste and the use of burnt coconut, perhaps a manifestation of the Malaysian influence. Sulu in the Philippines is geographically a neighbor to Malaysia and Indonesia.

For the dessert that is not really light, we had the Juwalan (fried banana dipped in latik or caramelized coconut milk) and the Putli Mandi (sticky flour balls filled with bukayo, rolled in grated coconut). Burp!

Juwalan
Juwalan
Putli Mandi
Putli Mandi

I sealed my meal with a cup of hot chocolate which ultimately pleased my sweet tooth. We walked out the resto uber satisfied!

Hot Chocolate
Hot Chocolate

Aside from the food places that offered authentic cuisines, we also tried some of the food hubs which were as old as like the pastry house Tsokolate.

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There are still a lot to discover in Zamboanga. I failed to try their famous Knickerbocker and the Curacha (deep-sea crab) in Alavar sauce among others. Our food trip was swift because of our flight schedule. But it was already a well-cherished, satiating cultural gastronomic adventure one should not miss. I am definitely going back! Who’s with me?

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Where to? Don Marcelino!

I recently returned to my hometown, the municipality of Don Marcelino in the province of Davao Occidental to spend my Holy Week. Far from the municipality I have known and grown up with for years, Don Marcelino has gradually exhibited signs of rural development since its separation from Davao del Sur on October 28, 2013 along with four other municipalities.

Transportation in Don Marcelino
A new addition to my hometown’s transportation system.

One evidence is the improvement of the transportation system. Residents of the municipality recently had this motorized vehicle as a new addition to the habal-habal (motor) and tricycle they use for transport. It has been used to brings passengers to and from the province’s capital-Municipality of Malita, a one-hour or less far from Don Marcelino. Malita also utilized this as a public transportation.

Aside from transportation, the municipality of Don Marcelino has taken the initiative of promoting tourist spots such as white sand beaches and waterfalls. Large tarpaulins of its photos welcome visitors as soon as you arrive in the place. Many people from neighboring communities have been visiting these hometown treasures but only now that it made some noise. I personally am familiar with some of them but I was not able to visit them.

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Selling vegetables and fish was my family’s primary source of income. These are the main livelihood of the people of Don Marcelino. 

I will not be surprised if there will be an increase of visitors to the place in the future. And it is not far that these spots will become one of the area’s economic drivers because, why not? As long as it is maintained and protected from abuse, we will continue to enjoy the beauty and the thrill it offers for a lifetime. I am definitely including this on my bucket list. It would be a pleasure to get to know deeper my own home. Most especially that coming here is becoming incredibly easy!

So, where to? Don Marcelino.

PS: I will update this post as soon as I will be able visit its potential tourist spots!PhotoGrid_1492171468592.png

Roundabout San Pedro: A Photowalk at Davao City’s Convergence District

San Pedro is an area in Davao City named after one of the notable and historic churches in the city, San Pedro Cathedral. Even the streets around this place were tagged with St. Peter’s name.

For more than six years of living here in the Crown Jewel of the South, I consider this as one of my favorite tourist destination around the city. I find it the most picturesque, probably because of the church settled here possessed a distinct and bold vinta-shaped architecture with a cross atop. It is also where the seats of local authority can be found, the City Hall of Davao and the Sangguniang Panlungsod, which are surrounded by parks too. It is the easiest to access since most of the jeepneys passes here. It is the first thing people think when they hear the word “downtown”. Thus, people of different social statusesand beliefs flock here for trade, personal appointments, leisure, family bonding, worship among others. In other words, a melting pot. No wonder, the district is always alive, teeming with life from sleepless people.

I have been going back and forth its streets, doing just as most people do, either to transact with government offices or kill time in its parks. I have witnessed how active and busy it is during the day and how tranquil yet mysterious it is come night. And it has stories waiting to be told. I don’t know but the place seems to have a natural charm that draws me to it. In one of my idle times, I took the chance to go around and take few photos of my favorite spot in the city – San Pedro. It is an actualization of Davao City’s catch phrase: “Life Is Here

In case you happen to include this in your travel itinerary, don’t forget to tag me. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Some of the photos were processed with a filter for added effect and mood. 

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Shots were taken using Oppo Neo 7. Additional information about San Pedro can be found here:

San Pedro Cathedral, a witness to the tales of a city, then and now, Davao Today (www.davaotoday.com)

SAN PEDRO CATHEDRAL: The Beacon of Davao’s Catholic Faith, The Travel Teller (www.thetravelteller.com)

What is your favorite part of Davao City? Send me your photo and be featured here!

MMFF 2016 | Mga Bitoon sa Siyudad: A Tribute to Davao’s Resilience

For the second time around, Davaoeno director Jarell Mahinay Serencio contributed something special to the film industry after his latest craft “Mga Bitoon sa Syudad” (Stars in the City) became an official entry to this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.

His first was the short film Victor which was adjudged as the Best Film in the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival in 2012.

His latest short film, Mga Bitoon sa Syudad was inspired by the recent bombing in his hometown’s well-known night market, the Roxas Night Market in Davao City.

In the five-minute film, Mac-Mac (9) and Oliver (12) takes you closer to their life as Roxas boys who serenades patrons of the night market to earn for their studies, helping their father who works as a masseur. In one of their nights, Mac-mac discovered that he lost some of his money. Oliver returned to where they were in the hope of finding the penny, leaving Mac Mac for a while and assured his return. After a few minutes, a loud explosion was heard. The scene in the night market became chaotic but Mac Mac patiently waited for his brother.

“As a human being I feel so much pain for all the innocent victims of all the terrorist attacks around the world most especially to all children who died and suffered from trauma,” he said. “Countless families lost a loved one, mothers who lost a child, a child who lost a parent and brothers who lost a brother.”

Serencio just lost his father due to a prolonged illness.

“When it happened here in my beloved hometown, Davao City, I could not contain the terrible emotion I felt on that day after hearing the news about the Roxas Night Market bombing. I feel that I should do something to contribute in condemning terrorism. As a filmmaker, I was inspired to tell the story of innocent victims that focuses on the lives of kids serenading the people in Roxas Night Market,” he added.

The short film, he said, is his tribute to those people who just wanted to survive day-to-day but have now become victims of terror attacks. “I also want this film to be a tribute to their families who were left behind.”

The resilience of the Davaoenos also fueled him to produce the film.

“This act of terrorism in my city has never shaken the faith of Davaoenos to stand again and go on with their lives. We remain strong and optimistic amidst the continuing threat to the city. That alone is something I can be proud of as a Davaoeno.”

“To my fellow Davaoenos, I urge all of us to stand strong as a community, let us remain vigilant and steadfast in helping one another especially during times of tragedies.  We need to move forward but we need not forget the people whose lives and life stories have been cut short prematurely,” he said in a statement.

With its recent participation in the Metro Manila Film Festival, the strength of the Davaoenos will now be trumpeted to the whole nation.

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Direk Jarell Serencio with the cast

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Mga Bitoon sa Siyudad is a short film written, directed and produced by Jarell Serencio — former head researcher of ABS CBN’s famous anthology “Maalaala Mo Kaya.”  It is shown together with ORO, a full length film directed by Alvin Yapan and starring Joem Bascon, Irma Adlawan and Mercedes Cabral. You can catch both films here in Davao City at SM Lanang Premier, NCCC Mall of Davao, and Gaisano Mall of Davao (GMall). Just look for its full-length partner, ORO.

There are officially 8 shorts and 8 full length films at this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival which are in cinemas starting December 25.

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EARWORM: Million Reasons | Lady Gaga

I first heard Lady Gaga performed “Million Reason” in the latest Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Paris.

But I was not distracted by the Victoria’s Secret Angels who walked down the runway in a lingerie (of course, because I am a gay, duh! LOL) and Mother Monster was not in her bold and deviant costume.

I was drawn by the lyrics. The message is so strong and honest and empowering that it compliments the girls strutting down the stage. The words are uplifting, motivating, inspiring, and prayerful accented by her powerful vocals. The two former are her trademark though but the latter is, in my opinion, a deviation (compared to her previous pop songs like Judas, Alejandro and some others). Her belting just added a conviction to every strucking line in it.

The song, Million Reasons was recorded by Lady Gaga as part of her latest album, Joanne (2016). Long before it reverberated in Paris, it was first heard on the radio stations. Gaga further promoted the songs in several concert venues of her Drive Bar Tour, a promotional concert series last October 5 this year.

Gaga categorized the “Million Reasons” as “a country song mixed with funk and rock ‘n’ roll. You would never imagine it would sound that way… the feeling underneath the record is it’s almost got like a little bit of a hip-hop feeling. But at the same time, it’s not a hip-hop song. It’s kind of like I just had no boundaries making music — and neither do any of the other people we were working with. It was kind of like what feels right, what hits the best, what’s going to get everybody in their stomach and their heart,” the singer”.

And she just nailed that! Its lyrics seemingly awaken every hidden emotion and thoughts I refused to admit to myself and have long been buried into the depths of my consciousness. It is telling me to go on with life, no matter what. It is telling me to be strong and not to stop. Finally, it says, “Have Faith!” This is a good hear, a good recommendation when you are troubled right now with whatever problems, insecurities there is.

Million Reasons

You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go
You’re giving me a million reasons to quit the show
You’re givin’ me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasonsIf I had a highway, I would run for the hills
If you could find a dry way, I’d forever be still
But you’re giving me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
I bow down to pray
I try to make the worst seem better
Lord, show me the way
To cut through all his worn out leather
I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away
But baby, I just need one good one to stay
Head stuck in a cycle, I look off and I stare
It’s like that I’ve stopped breathing, but completely aware
‘Cause you’re giving me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
And if you say something that you might even mean
It’s hard to even fathom which parts I should believe
‘Cause you’re giving me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
I bow down to pray
I try to make the worst seem better
Lord, show me the way
To cut through all his worn out leather
I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away
But baby, I just need one good one to stay
Hey, ehh, ehh, eyy
Baby I’m bleedin’, bleedin’
Stay, ehh, ehhy
Can’t you give me what I’m needin’, needin’
Every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith
But baby, I just need one good one
Good one, good one, good one, good one, good one
When I bow down to pray
I try to make the worst seem better
Lord, show me the way
To cut through all this worn out leather
I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away
But baby, I just need one good one, good one
Tell me that you’ll be the good one, good one
Baby, I just need one good one to stay

“Every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith
But baby, I just need one good one…reason to stay”

One good and beautiful addition to our music repertoire.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Reasons
http://lyrics.wikia.com/wiki/Lady_Gaga:Million_Reasons

GMEA 2016 Blogger of the Year Award: A Feather to my Cap

Let’s return to its purpose.

I knew the Globe Media Excellence Award (GMEA) even before I wrote my entry. My friends and colleagues in the media have been bagging several awards in different categories since the award’s humble beginnings. I knew of the prestige and the honor of being an awardee since the judges of the entries were reputable in the industry. They are alluring and enticing that you want to work hard for every story you make or produce.

But my winning piece, When There Are No Longer Birds To Watch, I did not intentionally write it as an entry for the award. Its initial purpose was for my experiences, including my struggles within, to be shared. This one, the plight of the Philippine Eagle and all other birds.

Until I decided, after my GMEA awardee friend’s prodding that I sent this entry to this year’s Globe Media Excellence Awards.

And yes, I was adjudged by the esteemed jurors and screeners of the prestigious award-giving body the title, “Blogger of the Year” because of this entry. As what I have said, the birds added a feather to my cap.

The truth is, I am not. I am not as prolific as other bloggers around, those who post as many OOTDs as they can in a week or in a day. In fact, I am a savage procrastinator, tolerant to my sleeping indulgence and sometimes staling every single brilliant idea I find while taking a bath. I am not the kind that goes to every single event or know the latests of everything.

The thing is, I don’t settle for “blogging for blogging’s sake”. I always end up writing thousand-word entries, having the ennui if people would even care to read it. It is a struggle to fight for other’s attention. But I wrote it anyway.

So let’s return to its purpose.
I am resharing this post not to brag that I am the Blogger of the Year, not even for people to know if I really deserved to be called one, but I am resharing this to go back to its sole purpose, perhaps the ingredient, the winning feather the judges had found.

The title “Blogger of the Year” has its own expiration. I will no longer be that blogger after a year or so. So I was lucky enough that I wrote it for a different, perhaps noble reason. At least, when it expires, I am still grounded.

So I am resharing this, to justify its existence, the reason why it came to being.

I just wanted to tell my stories, my musings. Turned out, I had touched, I can and will be touching more lives. This will be my motivation to share the transformative tales of humanity.

Thank you for Globe Telecommunication for giving this accolade. This will be part of my blog’s history. Special acknowledgment to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (Official) who inspired this post. Thank you to all who congratulated me. I owe you a lot. And lastly, thanks ahead to the people who will dare to read this.

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Congratulations to me!!!

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Thanks to Davao Digital Influencers for the regard!

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Check the post: When There Are No Longer Birds To Watch

FROM WHERE WE DRINK: The Panigan-Tamugan Watershed Tour

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Disclaimer: All the photos used in this post are owned by either Sir Lemuel Lloyd Manalo of IDIS or Ace Perez of Sunstar Davao. They are used with permission.

I am used to wake up at seven in the morning during ordinary days. If I feel like to pump up in a Zumba session at People’s Park during weekends, I get up at four or five. But my waking time last October 15 became earlier than the usual. I woke up at three in the morning to prepare for the fulfillment of the long been scheduled annual Panigan-Tamugan Watershed Tour organized by the environmental non-government organization Interface Development Intervention (IDIS).

The night before, I could hardly sleep, perhaps due to brimming excitement. It was previously scheduled last August, and then was moved to September and finally, this October. Imagine how it accumulated the desire to marvel at the green surroundings of the Panigan River in Barangay Tawan-Tawan, Baguio District in Davao City.

I packed the necessary things Lemuel Lloyd Manalo, the group’s media advocacy specialist, told us to bring. The lights were kept off so as not to awaken my one-year and ten-month old nephew. In the dark I groped for my gears, notebooks and pen, extra clothes to name a few, notwithstanding dressing up like a blind man. After keeping everything in check, I whispered goodbye to my mother. This trip, I told myself, would be a memorable visit to the source of the water I drink every day. An honor.

IDIS is one of the major environmental organizations that gave attention to the welfare of the environment and natural resources in Davao City, particularly the watersheds that provide potable water to the residents of the city. Currently, it is the Talomo-Lipadas Watershed which supplies us water but, according to the Davao City Water District (DCWD), the watershed is being threatened by shortage due to rapid population and industrial growth. That is why, the DCWD collaborated Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc. to explore the potential of another stream-the Tamugan River to where the bulk water project will be constructed. The project is set to be finished by 2019.

The Tamugan River’s surface water, as part of the entire Panigan-Tamugan Watershed, said IDIS, is very critical to heavy metal and bacterial contamination from nearby unsustainable industries. “These include rampant use of pesticides and herbicides for monocrop banana and pineapple plantations, forest land conversions, sewage from poultries and livestock farms and other pollutants,” said IDIS. And so, the group had painstakingly devised initiatives and efforts to rehabilitate the river, saving it for future use. And I am ready to see how everything fared.

It was five when I arrived at the rendezvous. As I got out of the jeepney, I immediately saw my former colleagues in print, Ace Perez of Sunstar Davao, and in broadcast media, Jandiane Esteban of RGMA Super Radyo. Four more people was also with us in the tour, Ibyang and Dan of Ecoteneo, an environmental organization in Ateneo De Davao University, Rai from the Philippine Eagle Center, and foreigner, an English man and an experienced birder Pete Simon who is a member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP). Orange streaks began percolating the sky. Few more minutes, Sunstar Davao Editor-in-chief and birder Stella Estremera along with another member of the WBCP, Martin Pineda parked their car. As soon as Sir Lem came, we trailed the road towards Brgy. Tawan-Tawan.

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BIRDWATCHING 101

Ace, Jandi, Ibyang and I are aboard Sir Martin’s vehicle with Ms. Stella and tailed Sir Pete’s car. The coldness inside his car seemingly simulated the bed-weather ambiance outside. We were quiet at the back, listening to Sir Martin’s lesson about being a birder and some ways to do it, bewildering us with his deep fascination with birds. He told us, in our approving silence, the nitty-gritties of birdwatching and its significance. “Birdwatching can be frustrating at first. You need patience because they are hard to see. They most of the time blend in the canopies. One tip: to be able to know where they are, find a tree which has fruits. They are like us. They go where the food is,” he discussed.

We were in our inexpressive aha-moments. “Don’t you know that birds are indications of a healthy environment? People before don’t choose to stay in a place where there are no longer birds. It could mean that the air in that area is polluted or the soil is not ideal for planting,” he continued, caring less if we were attentive or not. That was an information-packed roughly 45-minute ride.

We passed by the Philippine Eagle Foundation for a while. Sir Martin did not cease telling us everything he knew about birding, perhaps prodding the birder in us, as if pleading to release the illegally encaged avian interest, if there is any. Maybe not now for the birder, but the concern, the sympathy to the plight of the bird’s flight was sparked. In our short stay, we saw, through Pete’s arm-structured telescope, a resting egret, looking for food. The rest were busy capturing the egret’s perfect pose. Until, at a whim, we returned to the road heading to our real destination.

FIRST STOP: ACTUAL BIRDWATCHING BESIDE PANIGAN RIVER

Sir Lem gave us a brief orientation and background of the activity, its purpose, and few reminders. It is prohibited, he said, to drink from the river. “Although it is tested to be safe but still double caution should be observed.” And another, “keep your voices low as you may drive birds away.”- a reminder to a magpie like me.

Pete handed each of us binocular and we tried it like assassins. And we were apprentices destined to fail at our mission to have a clear sight of our elusive targets. We finally trekked down the rocky yet relatively muddy trail going to the river. The trees along the way were all had their heads up and green. They are worth a grin.

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Trying out the Kenko Binoculars like pro-assassins at Brgy Carmen. Photo by: Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS

Our tour guide, aside from Sir Lem, is a member, in fact, a leader of Bantayo Aweg, Jay Ronnie Gubat, a native in the area. The indigent youth volunteers comprising Bantayo Aweg are the ones who ensure the water quality of the current and future sources of safe drinking water for the city. Properly trained youth conduct water quality monitoring on the Panigan and Tamugan Rivers every end of the month. The monitoring enables us to assess the conditions of various bodies of water whether they are safe to drink, to swim in or to fish from.

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It is from this method that the IDIS found out that 8 out of 10 sampling stations in Talomo-Lipadas (current water source) and Panigan-Tamugan (future water source) have pesticides residues at least once during the sampling period in 2006 to 2008. However, the waters in the Panigan-Tamugan river is considered to be Class AA based on the standards of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB). It means it can be a potential site for drinking but still needs further study. This explains the first reminder.

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Part of the Panigan stream. Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

I almost forgot the second reminder after someone exclaimed to have spotted a White-breasted Kingfisher perched in a tree not far from the riverside where we stand. We immediately peeked through our binoculars, hoping we did not startle it so we can still see it. Luckily, everyone saw it. We looked for more and we found Everett’s and Mountain White-Eyes, Brown tit Babblers, Gray Wagtail who caused traffic on our way back to our vehicles, to name a few.

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Photo by: Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS
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Photo by: Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS
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Photo by: Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS

I thought finding birds was hard, as expected by an amateur in birdwatching who barely identifies every bird because he sees them all the same. But for Pete, it is even tougher more than the struggle of identification and selective vision the moment the birds camouflage. He said it is “difficult”, surprising for an experienced birder who had spent all his life birdwatching and traveled hundreds of islands around the globe pursuing this passion.

“Birdwatching in the Philippines is difficult because the birds are afraid of the people. They often see them with guns, the children with slingshots. People also made them captives and sell them,” he confessed.

It is a crestfallen reality to a region in the country, even the world, which has more endemic bird species next to Indonesia. Forty of the bird species can only be found in Mindanao. Added to that, most of them are critically endangered, and yes, that includes the country’s national bird-the Philippine Eagle.

SECOND STOP: PANIGAN CAVE

Our next stop was the Panigan cave and the continuation of the Panigan River. The only way to get there is to descend through the sinuous and inclined track guarded by Cacao trees at the sides, standing at attention with its yields dressed in maroon or yellow or green, silently wishing us to trip off and roll down as the quickest way to reach the destination. The Cacao trees were also accompanied by its Goliath, the Durian trees. I noticed that among the rows and columns of Cacao trees, there always stood some Durian trees. Sir Lem explained that Cacao trees are shade-loving beings and the Durian trees provide them that. Good thing, they can co-exist.

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The great descend. Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

What welcomed us is just a tip of the whole reforestation efforts under the Up-scaling Community Action and Response (UCARE) Program, still a part of the initiative of IDIS. It is noticeable that in Baguio District, especially those populated areas, foliage of trees like Cacao, Durian, Lanzones, Marang, Guyabano, Mangosteen, Santol, Avocado and Banana forms canopies. The fruit trees are planted by the resident themselves as a reforestation and watershed rehabilitation efforts as well as the source of their livelihood. Sir Lem referred to it as Agroforestry. Native non-fruit-bearing trees on the other hand were planted nearest to the stream such as Apitong, Patikan (palm species), Almon, Almaciga, Anitap, Malibago, Barubo, Tiger and Vertiger grass along riverbanks, and Ulingon (Hypericacea). They were the ones who quietly watched us as we struggle on our way down.

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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

I was catching breath after I reached the mouth of the Panigan Bridge. I perambulated the huge, white-painted steel bridge to the other end where the cave was.

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Photo by: Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS
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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

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The cave was covered with leaves and trees, concealing its opening but it was made conspicuous by the busy flight of Glossy Swiflets. They flew fast and ‘swift’ (perhaps the origin of their name) back and forth the cave. As we patiently waited for our guide Kuya Ernie Baratas, a Bantay Bukid (forest guard) to lead us to the cave, I was overwhelmed at the sight of a white egret and a young Brahminy Kite majestically gliding above us.

After a few more hours, the approaching of Kuya Ernie, an average man clad in blue shirt with a wooden bolo sheath hanging by his side, signaled us to prepare for the climb. We stood up and headed to the tricky side of the cliff. Sir Lem told us to free our hands because we will be using all our limbs for the climb. And indeed we did. The way up was steep and was made slippery by the dried Cacao leaves, but terrible than others. We latched ourselves on the edge by digging some holes with our feet. Good thing there are sturdy Cacao tree everywhere to hold on.

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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao
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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

After the struggles, we were able to get to the cave. Its mouth was dripping with water. The colossal roots that hugged the cavern’s figure were wet and cold. In an unfortunate chance that Kuya Ernie forgot his flashlight. And so we resorted to our phone’s light as we entered the dark, cold, and wet cave.

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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao
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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

We were not able to go farther inside because the floor was muddy and soft. Meanwhile, the swiflets were passing by us, ignoring our presence. The ceiling was filled with their small nests that can only hold two eggs in every laying time. Bats were also their roommate but I could hardly see one that time, probably because they were still asleep.

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Glossy Swiflet Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao
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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao
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Photo op at the dripping mouth of Panigan Cave. Photo by Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS

Because we can’t enter few more doors, we decided to return. Going down is a lot more difficult than climbing up. I almost caught up in an accident. Luckily, I was able to control my weight and had a good grip at the nearby Cacao trees and went down safe. Praise God.

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Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

On our way up, Kuya Ernie shared how the Bantay Bukid restored the verdant forest in Barangay Tawan-Tawan that affected their communities and other forest inhabitants. He said the reforestation helped increased the yield of other fruit-bearing trees from where they get their income. There are also more birds than before and other wild animals have returned. Mt. Tipolog is now teeming with life.

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Forest Guard Kuya Ernie shared how their lanzones doubled its yield after the reforestation. Photo by Lemuel Lloyd Manalo/IDIS

Bantay Bukid is a community-based forest guard group. It is composed of committed volunteers from the nearby sitios of Panigan, Sumpitan, Gading and Ubay-Nanap in Barangay Tawan-Tawan. The patrollers are deputized by the city government to assist in the enforcement of the rules and regulations of the Watershed Code. They regularly monitor the seedlings, clear foot trails of Mt. Tipolog where the Panigan River runs, and confiscate chainsaws from illegal loggers.

The tour was capped off in an indulgence of the magnificent and exhilarating lush view of the Mt. Tipolog while a riding one of the tramline system in Sitio Sumpitan.

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Panigan River. Photo by: Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao
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Mt. Tipolog. Photo by Ace Perez/Sunstar Davao

Read: Beyond the Tramline in Baguio District

Huge thanks and kudos to the people and organizations who opened our eyes to the real score of our environment, particularly in Davao City. To Sir Lemuel, Sir Pete, Sir Martin, Mam Stella, Mam Rai, Jay Ron, Kuya Ernie, the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS), the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCD), and the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and Philippine Eagle Center (PEF). This acknowledgement is not limited to the provisions during the tour but extends beyond the conservation efforts they have done for the environment.

Thank you also to the company of my colleagues, Ace, Jandi, Dan, and Ibyang. There was never a dull moment with these guys.

I could have returned to sleep because the call time was too early for me. Or if I have won the fight of dozing off back, I could have instead danced my way to a fitter figure. Rather, I choose to see what and who cleans the air I breathe and purifies the water I drink and turned out, it exceeded my expectations. It was a Saturday best spent. Thank you for the time 🙂